It’s cold here today. I’m looking out across the sealoch through a hail of white bullets. A huge white-tailed eagle has just flown past the window, pinching all the light. The trees are quite stripped of any whisper of autumn, thanks to the endless storm force winds that plunder the nights. Last night the roof tiles danced as if there was a load of Gene Kellys up there, singing in the rain. Sleep gave up on me around 4am and I woke to a lime green glow casting weird shadowy shapes around the room as the curtains fought to stay connected with their moorings. Oh hallo moon, I said. Full she was and quite chuffed with herself sitting there all alone in the sky, quite the big cheese. I checked my clock, though what for I can’t tell you. There was nothing to be learned whatever it said, with it’s luminous hands morse-coding the passage of time. I suppose if it had read 7 o’clock, it would have meant I could get up and make tea. But 4am is not the right time for anything other than going back to sleep, which I didn’t manage.
On summer mornings, when I wake early, I can bounce (quietly of course, although I bounce a bit more noisily these days) down the stairs, make tea and feel warm and excited about the day ahead, as I write. In the sleety wind-battered winter, the very thought of pushing back the duvet and stepping into the chilly room is enough to remain me beneath the goose down. So, I lie there thinking about things like sealing wax and kings and sundry other daft forays into the world of my imagination. One such journey showed me a mouse, made of velvet and the colour of chocolate which is very swish for a mouse by the way, and I bet you’ve never seen one.
Animals often appear in dreams and play large parts in whatever drama unfolds before my eyes. It has always been the way of things and not least, I imagine, because of all the hundreds of animals I have shared my life with. I remember the working horses in the flatlands, those gentle chestnut giants with slow gait and kindly eyes, with broad backs and feet like meat plates. I remember watching them pull a plough, bracing their wide chests against the harness and leaving, in their wake, deep straight lines across a field that reached to the horizon. After their work was done, we unclipped them and turned the huge collars around on their thick necks to give them some relief. The children, just toddlers, always wanted to ride them home to the stables and a welcome bucket of nuts. They looked like coloured dots, perched high above the rest of us, and clinging on tightly to the wiry manes, laughing with glee as they rocked and rolled their way down the track. We never had to lead the horses, for they were weary and only looking for food, water and rest. I remember someone making a hoo-ha about the danger we put our children in and it made us laugh out loud. They never fell off, couldn’t fall off, not with that width of back beneath their little bottoms, a back that could have hosted a small tea party quite safely.
Then we had collies, labradors, hens and cats, one, named Cosmic Creepers, whom we found with a rabbit snare embedded in it’s neck. It was wild and had a set of extremely sharp teeth that it enjoyed sinking into arms and fingers. Mum and I spent ages snipping the wire, bathing the wounds and minding our fingers. Cosmic Creepers became part of the family, as did Isobel the hen as you will know if you’ve read Island Wife. Isobel was also wild, but, thankfully, quite without sharp teeth. We had pet calves and lambs who always got daft names. Mint Sauce, for example, and Bovril, and Lamb Chop. Once we had a crow called Jim who lived in a cage in the barn and smelled dreadful. His wing was hurt, and after he was set free, he hopped around the garden as if he couldn’t quite remember what to do next.
Living with animals is never dull. They teach me. If I only think as a human I miss something, an extra dimension, for animals are quite honest and rather definite about their needs. They don’t fanny about wondering if it’s convenient for me to serve up dinner, they just whinny or moo or march into the kitchen, which is okay-ish if we are talking Hen. A working horse might have caused a bit of a stooshie, had she got indoors, but I caught her in time. She just followed me back from the stable and……well…..kept coming. I fed her a carrot and turned her smartly around. She did wander back, but not immediately, deciding to visit the farm veg shop on the way for a big mouthful of winter greens. I could see them hanging out of her mouth as she sashayed up the track, and wee Polly, who worked in the shop had to go home for a lie-down.
I always thought of myself as a wild horse. I said so, to the island husband one day. He snorted, which was a bit rude. No, he said, not a wild horse, oh no definitely not!
Okay……….thanks for that……….what then, if not a wild horse?
A hen, he said and thought it was terribly funny, for quite some time.